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Elizabethan Sonnets and Hindi Film-songs
|by Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya|
Comparing Elizabethan sonnets with Hindi film-songs! The very idea seems absurd, far-fetched. Perhaps even sacrilegious to devotees of Shakespear, Sidney and Spenser. But, come to think of it, it is not really all that ridiculous: both have a common ancestry in Persian poetry which is brought out by the remarkably similar conventions both follow. And I think it is high time that our Hindi film-song writers become aware and are legitimately proud of their august connections with the Elizabethan poets. On the one hand there is the Saracen courtly-love convention filtering through to England via Spain and Italy. On the other there is the love poetry of Firdausi and Utbi reaching the Hindi silver screen via Ghalib and company.
Love is seen as both consolatory and painful in both. In Shakespeare, the memory of the faithless fair youth is simultaneously painful and pleasurable. So, too, the love in Hindi songs consoles himself with the thought that, though rejected by all, someday, somewhere, someone will definitely make him her own:
Again, the situation around which both these literary and cinematic genres are built is that of the disdainful mistress and her persistent-despairing lover who goes no wooing her in the same hackneyed terms, sounding for all the world like a cracked gramophone record. However, whereas the Elizabethan mistress had to be inexorably unyielding so that the lover could continue to worship her on a pedestal as the embodiment of chastity and all other womanly qualities, all the while moaning and groaning endlessly, the position is singularly different with the Hindi film lover. We Indians are probably more earthy in our desires and optimistic by nature (no tragedies are forbidden by the Natyashastra). Consequently the lover is injected with an irritatingly smug I-know-you-will-give-in attitude. He tells his beloved that whatever names she might call him and however much she might pretend to detest him, he is in love with her, and that is that! She can like it or lump it:
Since, therefore, the lover cannot moan against his beloved’s inexorable chastity, he has to direct his plaint against the cruel world which hinders their union. It is the eternal Romeo-Juliet, Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjah, Shirin-Farhad them common to both East and West, namely: zamana dushman hai!
So too the Hindi film song goes, “Jo baat tujhme hai, teri tasveer mein nahin,” or, “Tasveer banata hoon, tasveer nahin banti,” or “Tasveer teri dil mera bahela na sakegi, woh teri tarah mujhse to sharma na sakegi…” and so on and so forth ad infinitum.
We have only to compare the last example with Sylvester’s sonnet, “Were I as base as the lowly plain” to see the remarkable and astonishing similarity of sentiment and imagery:-
Actually, even in the conceit of the lover as the lute and the beloved as the music has its exact parallel in the Hindi saaz ho tum, aawaaz hoon main.
The most striking similarity, however, is seen in the terms in which is beloved is described. Putting Lodge’s “Rosaline” and songs like “Ye chaand sa roshan chehera” or “Ab kya misaal doon main tumhare shabab ki” side by side we find the following commonalities:
These very incongruities are proof of the strength of the common poetic tradition binding these two apparently dissimilar genres together. Otherwise why should Urdu poets think of golden-haired and blue-eyed beauties in a land of dark-haired and anything but blue-eyed women?
To these we must add a few variations which we find in Ben Jonson’s “Drink to me with thine eyes.” These are the ideas of the eyes as wine-cups and of the lips as containing nectar:
However, the unique contribution of Hindi film songs lies in the sense of thepseudo-fear of falling in love. Repeatedly, in song after song, the lover murmurs, “I hpe this is not love,” (kahin ye pyaar hi na ho) or “You are so lovely, I pray that I may not fall in love with you,” (kahin aaj kisi se mohabbat nah o jaaye). This is said generally after considerable euphoria concerning the beloved’s “zulfein” (love-locks) and all the rest of the paraphernalia described above. It is all mere sentimental posturing, of course. He is hoping, all the time, that she will reciprocate his infatuation, thinking that he does not care! The height of naivete really, but a new element, not found in Elizabethan sonnets, is introduced all the same. Probably it is a prototype of the protest against the tyranny of love which finds expression so often in the sonneteers’ rantings against the mischief of blind Cupid.
In its sweeping generalization and condemnation (he refers to all women, not just to a particular one) this song goes far beyond anything the |Elizabethans ever said and it is hardly very flattering to the fair sex.
A slightly different version came out in the Sunday Hindusthan Standard dated 16 March 1969
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